top コラムExhibition ReportVol.20 In Praise of Quantity 膨大な写真が埋め尽くす写真展の考え方

Exhibition Report

Vol.20 In Praise of Quantity 膨大な写真が埋め尽くす写真展の考え方

John Sypal

I wasn’t able to get to a show this past week to write about, so this week I’d like to share some thoughts on the element of Quantity in photographic exhibitions.




While there is obviously impact in a concise presentation of a set of photographs, the implication that “too many” pictures is a detriment is something which many photographers in Tokyo are either unfamiliar with- or, even better- gleefully skew in practice. 




Thinking back over the hundreds of exhibitions that I’ve visited in Japan, the ones which have stuck with me strongest have inevitably been not sparse, sleek shows but ones where gloriously overwhelming in both imagery and surface area.




One that immediately comes to mind is Yoshihito Muta’s unforgettable “Tokyo Hakkei” at Shinjuku’s 3rd District Gallery in 2017.


すぐに思い浮かぶのは、2017年に新宿の3rd  District Galleryで行われた牟田義仁さんの忘れられない「東京八景」です。


Yoshihito Muta, Tokyo Hakkei, at 3rd District Gallery in 2017


This show was of prints Muta made between 1995-2003.Awoken from their sleep, removed from their boxes, they coated nearly every surface of the gallery- certainly all of the walls, over half of the ceiling, and sometimes parts of each other. I had never seen anything like it. The show felt like (and I mean this in the best way) a lunatic’s answer to a wall-to-paper geometry problem. A calculation of time and space; Here Muta’s theory of relativity was expressed in prints. Since he had more square meters of photographs than walls, the result was a gloriously disorienting experience. Mouth ajar, I was there for over an hour and, once it was time to go, felt a pang of worry that I hadn’t seen enough. One thing was for sure- his denial of “preciousness” was liberating.  



牟田義仁「東京八景」(3rd  District Gallery、2017年)は、牟田さんが1995年から2003年にかけて制作した銀塩プリントでした。壁のすべて、天井の半分以上を埋め尽くすプリントは、互いが重なり合ってギャラリーを覆っていました。私は当時このような展示を見たことがありませんでした。ある幾何学的な問題に対する、写狂人の答えのように感じられました(これは最高の賛辞です!)。




Nobuyoshi Araki, POLART 6000, at Rat Hole Gallery in 2009


Speaking of a liberatingly overwhelming show-

Nobuyoshi Araki’s POLART 6000 at Rat Hole Gallery in 2009 had (surprise!) over 6000 Polaroids on display.  (I firmly believe that no other individual has taken as many Polaroids as Araki.) Incredible.


解放的で圧倒的なショーといえば、2009年にRat Hole Galleryで開催された荒木経惟「POLART 6000」では、なんと6000枚以上のポラロイドが展示されていました。荒木さんほど多くのポラロイドを撮影した人間は歴史上にいないと私は確信しています。


Thinking that he needed an “edit” to best impart particular message would be missing the point- the message, if there was one, was the experience of facing such a tsunami of palm-sized squares. Awash in a lurid sea of Polaroid- tesserae, I wonder if the impossibility of seeing everything there wasn’t sort of a metaphor for life itself.




Araki’s Kata-Me, an consisting of over a thousand 5x7s, as exhibited on these same Rat Hole walls in 2018.  


2018年に同じRat Hole Galleryで展示されたのは、1000枚以上の5x7判で構成された荒木経惟さんの「片目」。


Nobuyoshi Araki, Kata Me, at Rat Hole Gallery in 2018


Again, with walls of images, viewers were compelled to move up and down to engage with the work. Likewise, the view of this monochromatic mandala shifted the closer or further one got. Each print was an essential part of a greater mosaic. Unlike the generally consistent experience that single row of framed photos offers, due to visitor height differences, a massive grid such as this offers a slightly different experience for each person. At 195cm tall, the show I encountered most naturally was somewhat different than what someone with a 152cm line of sight saw.




The element of quantity was essential to the meaning of Meisa Fujishiro’s “90 Nights” at BOOKMARC in 2018:


2018年にBOOKMARCで行われた藤代冥砂さんの「90 Nights」の写真展は、量の要素が欠かせませんでした。


Meisa Fujishiro, 90 Nights, at BOOKMARC in 2018


In it was a magnificent grid of his fellow late-‘90s nightclubbers— through inkjet prints they looked out across two decades: over two hundred sweaty, late-night, party-flashed faces, over two hundred pairs of eyes smiled down at you in the present.

Can you imagine how different, how comparatively inadequate, a row of say, ten nicely framed of nightclub portraits would be?




Quantity suggests life- it broadens the scope.

Getting more to see gives you more opportunity to feel.




Haruto Hoshi at Place M in 2018


Minami Sakamoto, Wave Tossed but Unsunk, at Totem Pole Photo Gallery in 2018


I should add that one other reason I enjoy exhibitions with more pictures than “necessary” comes from my belief that every photograph possesses an innate element which surpasses the ideas and intent of their makers. More pictures, less words. Like I said, with room to look, you’ve got room to see. The other aspect is more practical. If someone (or, me) is going to make time out of their day to travel to a gallery and see some pictures, it’s best to give them enough to have make it worth the effort.




Of course, here I am talking about physical exhibitions.

Obviously- and especially with the literally endless stream of images available via our smartphone screens, the issue of “too much” can be, well, too much. There is a lot out there, more posted in a day than any one of us can ever see in our entire lifetime.

Pondering this, I think of this wonderful quote by Alec Soth:





“When burdened by the feeling that there are too many photographs in the world, I ask myself if there are too many flowers.”


Alec Soth/アレック・ソス


He’s right. What else are you going to do about it? Photography isn’t a pyramid, but rather one large, scraggly garden. Photos bloom and weeds grow but you’re free to put as many of either in your garden (or vase) or gallery wall as you wish. I’d encourage anyone considering a photo exhibition to consider giving their audience room to look around. Quantity as an exhibition element is as critical to the experience of the work as is the content of the images.

The embrace of quantity by Japanese photographers is both a strength and hopefully, a model.






地平 Horizon group show, CASE Tokyo, 2018


Shinya Arimoto, Tokyo Circulation, Zen Foto Gallery 2016





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